the owl f lies by night

TE­COLOTE CAFÉ

Pasatiempo - - AMUSE-BOUCHE - Tantri Wija

The only thing bet­ter than break­fast for din­ner is din­ner for din­ner — some­place where you usu­ally have break­fast. Te­colote Café hopes so, any­way. The orig­i­nal fam­ily own­ers have been lit­er­ally sling­ing hash for al­most 40 years, and for most of those they sat on the cor­ner of Cer­ril­los Road and Baca Street. Rent prices forced them to move (how very Santa Fe), and they were closed for more than a year be­fore re­open­ing at the Vil­lage West Shop­ping Cen­ter on St. Michael’s Drive. The new lo­ca­tion is big­ger and more open but still fes­tooned with owls, with what ap­pear to be the booths from the orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion and the same com­fort­ingly fa­mil­iar farm­house vibe. As of a few months ago, they be­gan serv­ing din­ner with an en­tirely dif­fer­ent menu.

All meals at Te­colote, whose motto is “No Toast,” be­gin with a home bak­ery bas­ket, and din­ner is no ex­cep­tion. The bas­ket af­ter 5 p.m. is sa­vory, how­ever, in­clud­ing fluffy bis­cuits, corn muffins, and/or soft fo­cac­cia in some com­bi­na­tion, and is, as al­ways, free. The starters end of the menu in­cludes bar snack ap­pe­tiz­ers like na­chos and fried av­o­cado. We tried the carne adovada egg rolls ($5 at happy hour for a half or­der), which can go hor­ri­bly wrong if they’re over­fried. These were done to perfection, filled with Te­colote’s beloved carne adovada, which was, even af­ter be­ing wrapped and fried, still ten­der and moist. They came with a tzatziki-like dip­ping sauce which didn’t quite com­ple­ment them, but it wasn’t nec­es­sary any­way be­cause carne adovada comes bear­ing its own sauce.

The din­ner of­fer­ings at Te­colote are, quite lit­er­ally, all over the map. Amer­i­can meat-and-pota­toes fa­vorites ex­ist along­side Ital­ian pasta dishes, deli sand­wiches, New Mex­i­can peren­ni­als, and even an in­con­gru­ent Thai curry dish. This would nor­mally spell dis­as­ter, but the kitchen at Te­colote pulls it off with sur­pris­ing aplomb. This is not fine din­ing, but the dishes have a sort of com­fort food, gas­trop­ubby feel to them. The lamb chops, for ex­am­ple, came out per­fectly seasoned and beau­ti­fully cooked, ac­com­pa­nied by broc­coli and pa­pas bravas (Span­ish­style roasted pota­toes seasoned with pa­prika), with a dash­ing lit­tle swirl of some pa­prika-based sauce across the plate. It looked sim­ple, but the broc­coli was per­fectly salted and steamed just al dente, and the sauce tied every­thing to­gether.

The Ital­ian com­fort food of­fer­ings also strad­dle the line be­tween mama’s New Jersey kitchen and slightly finer din­ing. We tried the baked penne and added black­ened chicken on top, which hit all the right notes for such a dish: creamy, zingy with tomato, the chicken both crunchy and ten­der. There was also a lot of it, thank good­ness — it’s tire­some to or­der pasta and get a sprin­kle of carbs on a giant empty plate. The chicken pic­cata was also pleas­ing, lemony and gen­er­ously seasoned with ca­pers, the an­gel hair pasta cooked to perfection. It came with a pounded chicken breast, which had a slightly more rub­bery tex­ture than it should have — but not enough to bother us.

To taste the rain­bow, we also tried the Thai curry, which we or­dered with shrimp. This was a pleas­ant

sur­prise, a ro­bust red curry full of crisp veg­eta­bles in­clud­ing red bell pep­pers and sweet pota­toes, just spicy enough for ev­ery­one at the ta­ble, and sprin­kled lib­er­ally with crunchy peanuts. Even the white sticky rice was spot-on, and the shrimp were large, quite fresh, and served tail-on.

Te­colote also has its beer and wine cre­den­tials to go with din­ner, and they of­fer a few agave wine mar­gar­i­tas. We tried the hi­bis­cus va­ri­ety, which came out an in­vig­o­rat­ing shade of ma­genta and was tangy, re­fresh­ing, and per­fectly bal­anced, sweet with­out be­ing cloy­ing.

Be­cause Te­colote has its own bak­ery, save room for dessert. We tried the tres leches cake, which was ac­cept­able but not ex­cit­ing, drip­ping with con­densed milk and cov­ered in whipped cream. The sec­ond trip, though, we had the blue­berry cob­bler à la mode, a mem­o­rable hot pan of oozy, gooey, not-too-sweet fruit in a crumbly but­ter crust that ar­rived with a giant ball of divine vanilla ice cream roughly the size of the cob­bler it­self.

There were a few off notes. Te­colote made it­self in­dis­pens­able with New Mex­i­can break­fast items, so on one visit, we tried the New Mex­i­can combo plate on the din­ner menu. This was sur­pris­ingly bland and un­der­whelm­ing, in­clud­ing a tamale, a bean-and-cheese bur­rito, a rolled cheese en­chi­lada, and a side of beans and posole. Every­thing on the plate suf­fered from a kind of dry, bland same­ness of carbs bound to­gether by or­ange cheese, lack­ing in fla­vor or spice. The duck que­sadilla was also dis­ap­point­ing, con­sist­ing of sim­ply flour tor­tillas glued to­gether with that same hard or­ange cheese with a bit of ad­mit­tedly soft, ten­der duck meat in­cluded in the mid­dle, ap­par­ently placed there af­ter the cheese had been left to cool and con­geal. It was jar­ring that these items had come from the same kitchen as the other dishes.

Dur­ing both trips, ser­vice was an is­sue. It took for­ever to put in our or­ders (though they came out pretty quickly there­after), be­cause our server, who was oth­er­wise lovely, was pant­ing like a race­horse try­ing his best to cover too many ta­bles at once. Un­til they get that poor man some backup, ex­pect a wait — this might not be the best place to go if you have to get to a movie af­ter­ward.

But it’s def­i­nitely worth a trip. Te­colote fills a bit of the niche left by the clos­ing of the Zia Diner, a Guadalupe Street standby: a va­ri­ety of com­fort foods at rea­son­able prices, in­clud­ing things your kids will eat and sat­is­fy­ing desserts to bribe them to fin­ish their veg­eta­bles. It’s just like home, but with a few more swishes of sauce and no dishes to clean up.

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